Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 20, 2009
A bigger lesson

Darkfall sure evokes strong emotions. That, or syncaine developed Tourette syndrome. :) I'm watching Darkfall from the outside, by reading various blogs, and I noticed an interesting trend. Everyone who loves Darkfall is playing with a guild, everyone who hates Darkfall was trying to solo it. You can't really solo Darkfall any more than you could solo Everquest, another game evoking strong emotions. These games are designed to be played in groups, and soloing means playing against the underlying design philosophy, which usually ends up with unpleasant results.

But the bigger lesson behind that is that a game which is fundamentally hostile and unpleasant, not to mention not technically mature, can create strong positive emotions through social interaction. There is a barrier to entry, where players hate to have to rely on other players. But once that barrier is overcome, playing together like a real team is a lot more fun than soloing. In Everquest the idea that the game had to be hostile to force players to band together and ultimately create more fun by better social cohesion was called "The Vision". "The Vision" died a slow and painful death when it turned out that far more people were willing to play more user-friendly games. Today many people think that the World of Warcraft model in which the game lets you solo all the way up to the level cap is inherently more successful.

What if that is a misconception? What if we could have the best of both worlds, a game which is both user-friendly *and* fosters more social interaction? Maybe "The Vison" is right in saying that playing together is ultimately more fun than playing alone, but modern games are right in saying that getting there by making solo life unbearable is not the way to go. And the way to get to that point is so obvious, seeing how strongly players react to rewards and incentives. Just make a game you *can* solo all the way in a pleasant way, but add plenty of incentives to group instead. Make gaining xp and levels in a group twice as fast as gaining xp solo. Add tons of guild features which foster cooperation, guild projects in which people can work together even if they aren't online at the same time and having the same level. Introduce systems in which remaining loyal to the same guild for a long time gives you rewards, so it becomes better to solve minor problems with compromise instead of simply joining the next and more powerful guild. Extend social relationships to outside the game, using Facebook-like game websites accessible from everywhere.

I think we haven't reached the last stage of massively multiplayer online role-playing games yet. We found a lot of puzzle pieces which make those games better, but there is still room for a lot of innovation and putting these puzzle pieces together to form a better game. The "MMO accessible for everyone" is good, but the "MMO with strong social cohesion" is good too. And the game that'll manage to have both will be a huge success.
I think the problem here is simply one of "time able to be spent in the game". Every game that fosters these positive social interactions that we have seen have had the side-effect of requiring large amounts of time devotion (Not necessarily skill devotion either, you can easily be a casual player that just spends a lot of time in the game). It really is the way you foster these things, you make it so that it requires you to spend large amounts of time with other people.

WoW, by allowing players to play for a short time and accomplish things in that short time, tapped in to a base of players that never played MMOs before and aren't rally MMO players at heart. The WoW tourists that syncaine rants about. These people simply don't have the devotion to spend large amounts of contiguous time on a game. Again, time isn't skill, and there are lots of very good players that can't spend all day on a game just as there are lots of really bad players who can't spend all day on a game.

The community is built up when people really get to know each other in the game world. When they start having the same sort of interactions in the game world as they do the real world. And that takes serious dedication to the game and time spent playing.

It would be interesting trying to line up games in order from the percieved best community to the percieved worst community, and then examine just how many contiguous hours the average player spends on the game.
You are forgetting something Tobold.
Even with this fast leveling it would take a very casual player some months to reach the level cap. If on top of that you would give more advantages if people grouped, then players would storm through the content even faster.
The Blizzard polish comes with a price, they take much much longer than other companies because of the extra, extra time in QA (I think).
So unless they come up with a new framework that allows the creation of bug free content in way shorter timings, they will trivialize leveling up to this point but I don't see them trivialize it further.
The reason why soloing is so popular at all I'm pretty sure is because it's more convenient in almost every way. It sure is more fun grouping, but if you have to spend half an hour or more finding or organizing a group then it will not be as popular as it could be. Also there are other things to consider. Rewarding more xp for grouping, sure that's nice. Making people able to group up and complete quests together without everyone having to be on the exact same step as the others would be another. Probably other things too but I can't think of any more right now.

As already mentioned above I don't think that giving as much as twice the xp in a group would be good. It should probably be slightly faster than soloing, but not by very much.
I dislike the idea of giving eg double xp to grouped players. Again, it makes me feel like I can't be competitive.

Now, a good idea is how WoW does it: there is solo content (levelling 1-80: some people just level to 80 and go level another alt, battlegrounds, grinding, questing,...°. And there's also group content at lvl 80: instances, arena's, raids,... Solo levelling does not get punished and you get a small XP bonus if you group. Except of course the triple XP 1-60 which annoys me, I can't be get the same levelling time as players who group.

Making soloing possible but 2x harder/slower then grouping will just put me off too.
I think that forced "high commitment" grouping only works for small proportion of people at a certain time in their lives. I have no doubt that it is great fun while it lasts. It is just not a possibility however for many of us who have left college years ago, who are trying to pay off car loans and mortgages, who want to spend time with our non game playing partners and kids, who have many important commitments to employers to family, to friends and to the wider community.

I like being in a guild. I like having friends to chat to while I am playing. I love grouping with other people on line when rare circumstances come together to make it possible but If the game requires me to schedule my real life commitments around a guild schedule then I am afraid I cannot do that. I can play a game with low commitment grouping. I can do pugs, I can log into Left4 Dead to spend an hour shooting zombies with random strangers.

I would guess I am not alone in this.
IBTSR (In Before The Syncaine Rant.)

You have used the word "WoW" and "Darkfall" in the same paragraph. His Syncaine sense is tingling. Just give him time to have his cofee and properly start foaming at the mouth. =)

I played FFXI, also a forced grouping game, the big problem wasn't that you needed other players to advance but that you needed other players, who played specific classes to advance. Standing around with 4 dps players looking for a tank and a healer for three hours isn't good game design.

Darkfall, with no character classes, is not limited in this regard. Even Warhammer is somewhat limited due to designing PVE around the holy trinity of tank-healer-dps.

I assume as the game progresses that there will be more differentiation. Some players will become really good casters/ranged dps and/or healers. As soon as that starts happening then other groups will need to recruit skilled healers as well. As soon as group tactics demand a healer your argument would have some weight with regards to Darkfall. ~Centuri
Since UO in 97, my experience has been that the less hard coded rules an MMO has, the better the player structure. UO basically had no rules, yet entire game styles sprang up because people were able to use the tools in front of them (orc clans, crafter guilds, anti-PK groups, etc). Same for AC-DT, little rules in how players actually played, yet 'town control' was naturally created. The meta-game in EVE is entirely player driven, and not some hard-coded 'this side vs this side'. The best moments have also been player created, and not someone overcoming a really tough AI script.

Compare that to WoW, where being horde/alliance is just a choice of race, and no one ever cares to fight the good fight against the enemy. Hell Blizzard has gone out of there way to push that aspect out of the game, with neutral cities and a common enemy. The idea that you can create artificial rewards that will mimic player choice is a bit off. WAR has guild ranks and rewards, yet those don't come close to inspiring the loyalty a guild member has in UO. Adding more carrots to the stick only works so far (and the players will find a way to work the fun out of whatever you create anyway)

It's funny that you started this post by musing that the people enjoying DF are players who are gaming together, as if that's this big revelation for an MMO. Shocking, that in the post-WoW space, the best parts of a game are not the epics you chase or the rep you grind, but the time you spend with others online. That, if nothing else, is the greatest indicator how far the genre has fallen (or simply changed to $15 a month single player games), at least in terms of mass market games.
Yeah, the EQ "Vision" indeed turned out to be nothing more than a "Dream". I like to solo, but I think we have gone too far. Or better, WoW has gone too far in terms of solo player friendliness. Grouping is even discouraged, and this is the other extreme.

I think that many people are just fed up by WoW and WoW clones, and Darkfall is supposed to be the new Messias. But it has so many issues that it will not only discourage the solo player in the long run. Even dedicated MMO players cannot turn back time to days where low quality, many bugs and glaring issues on the level of game design were almost expected and accepted. WoW set a good standard in quality and comfort in a genre that suffered from the release of beta-stage products or total catastrophes.
Many people ask "If you prefer to solo, why are you playing a MMORPG?".
I am a casual gamer, but not by choice.
If I was a teenager and had the summer off, I would hook up an I.V. bag for nourishment and play until I passed out.
However, I am married with a 3 year old daughter and that means I get to play in 1 hour spurts on a good night.
I love grouping, but having to spend half my alotted time waiting to get a group together really puts the kabosh on it.
I have played WoW for three years and I have never been in a single raid. :-(
About the time we would get to the Boss Mob, I would have to leave to make dinner or something.
I think that SWG tried to compensate for not getting the same amount of XP while grouping.
The result was what was called "Solo grouping". Does anyone remember that?
As far as Darkfall goes I believe that 1 year from now there will just be two mega-guilds.
If you are not a member of one of these guilds, you will not be able to harvest or adventure outside of town.
In other words Tobold you are advocating the carrot rather than the stick. I can't disagree with that. People don't like getting hit with a stick, it leaves marks. ;)
I'd check out City of Heroes for the carrot-over-stick approach. It's not utterly perfect -- certain Archetypes do solo better than others -- but overall I group up much more there than I do in WoW, because more people want to team, because you get better bonuses when you're on a team. Couple that with the Sidekick/Exemplar system and you've got lots of people playing together.
WoW in its own way encourages some grouping. There's the whole raid endgame that requires groups. Arena play requires small groups.

Also, giving double XP for grouping basically penalizes players for playing solo -- it's The Vision presented in a different fashion, is all. Believe me, it wouldn't be seen as a bonus for grouping as much as it would seem like a penalty to people who solo.

Essentially, if you give cool incentives to group, you are discouraging soloing. You risk losing the solo crowd, and many of us solo a lot simply for time reasons. You are sort of driving the soloers out of the game.

I really think WoW does a decent job of appealing to a wide variety of MMO styles. Want to raid? Check. Want some PvP? You have arenas, battlegrounds, and Wintergrasp now. Want to solo? Check. Most playstyles do not feel forced out of the game. (And yes, I know the refrain: "WoW PvP suxors!!!" I like WoW's battlegrounds as much as Warhammer's scenarios, and Wintergrasp seems to be just as engaging as a lot of the oRvR in Warhammer.)
"Essentially, if you give cool incentives to group, you are discouraging soloing. You risk losing the solo crowd, and many of us solo a lot simply for time reasons. You are sort of driving the soloers out of the game. "
Only if the penalties are badly designed or so severe that soloing is effectively impossible. There's the extreme end, where EQ1 effectively made it all but impossible for many classes to gain experience solo, but there are also more subtle options. For example, consider what would have happened in WOW if, instead of lowering the experience requirements for everyone from vanilla WOW, Blizzard had instead introduced a bonus of 20% experience for each additional player in the group. Now we know that soloing was fine and fun before the change, so that wouldn't have suddenly become a problem, but grouping would have been rewarded with faster levelling.

Alternatively, imagine what would happen if Blizzard introduced a fair number of of tougher mobs with better loot into open areas, roughly equivalent to the "2-man" elite mobs that are out there now. Now these would still be soloable, but it would probably take a period of rest afterwards. a 2-man group could breeze through them.
The incentive for grouping can't be much faster leveling than soloing, I believe. If you do that, the soloers are going to feel aggrieved. After all, they put just as much effort into the time they spend in the game as do the players who are grouped. Why is their effort devalued because they choose to play alone? And that is how they will feel -- like they are being penalized for playing alone. (I was in beta. I've seen this kind of psychology in action. The "rested XP" thing was really controversial at the time it was implemented because a lot of players saw it not as a bonus for players who didn't play as frequently, but as a penalty to players who did.)

In WoW you have dungeons that start in the teens and go through level 80. If that's not enough incentive to group for some players, then you probably are not going to get them to group. These are players who prefer to solo. Now, maybe you say you don't want these kinds of players in your game, because that is not The Vision you have. That's fine, but you're not going to get 11.5M subscribers with that kind of Vision. You get Darkfall numbers.
When I was leveling up my priest in Northrend I didn't do a single instance. Not because I didn't want to, but because it was a waste of time. I can net more exp per hour grinding out quests rather than hoping for a succesful pug. Northrend really made me miss the grouping aspect of EQ.

WotLK had some good quests but it also brought a certain realization to me. The more quests I did, the more I wished I could just sit somewhere and farm mobs for exp. Quests typically require you to go from point A to point B and kill anywhere from 1 mob to 10 and then return. Very rarely do you go back to these spots, it's just a waste. I really wanted to just sit somewhere and kill mobs using my abilities, because believe it or not I enjoy combat... not collecting 10 flowers to turn in somewhere.

The reason I was so focused on leveling was because I am a casual gamer I have less time to play. All of my friends were already level 80 and I HAD to rush through the content in order to group with them.
This is where WoW could borrow a page or two from Warhammer. Public quests would be nice in WoW, and kill collector quests would also be nice. And while we're at it, throw in XP gain from running battlegrounds too. Give players alternate ways to level. Heck, why not toss in some XP gain from boosting your crafting skill too?
"I can net more exp per hour grinding out quests rather than hoping for a succesful pug. Northrend really made me miss the grouping aspect of EQ."

I am curious about this. Do you mean you wish WoW forced grouping like EQ did, so that you would get in groups easier because that was the fastest leveling path? Would you really like it if soloing was slow and difficult?
"I am curious about this. Do you mean you wish WoW forced grouping like EQ did, so that you would get in groups easier because that was the fastest leveling path? Would you really like it if soloing was slow and difficult?"

I miss being able to group as a viable means to gain exp. I don't dillute myself into thinking EQ had the Solo VS Group exp situation perfect, in fact it had many more issues than WoW. The fact remains though that in a MMO, Massively Multi-Player Online Game, that solo'n is the most effecient means of progressing you character to max level. The MMO doesn't happen until max level.

I work and have alot of real life resposnsibilties now that I didn't have when I played EQ. That is why WoW fits me. It's easy and aproachable. That doesn't mean it's more fun. On those nights where I do have 2-3 hours to play I'm still forced to solo because the grouping content is not properly nurtured.
Running instances in WoW can be good XP gain, especially if you have the related quests.

I'm still unsure about your issue. If you could log on when you have 2-3 hours and find a group right away for an instance, would you run the instance even if the XP gain wasn't as good as soloing?

Or is it simply the problem with finding a group in the first place? That's my problem. Sometimes I feel like an instance, but since I don't belong to a raiding guild, I have to PUG it, and when you PUG it sometimes you never get the group going. I don't know how many times I've been in a PUG advertising, "Need tank and good to go" or "Need healer and good to go" and never find that last group member.
"Running instances in WoW can be good XP gain, especially if you have the related quests.

I'm still unsure about your issue. If you could log on when you have 2-3 hours and find a group right away for an instance, would you run the instance even if the XP gain wasn't as good as soloing? "

Solo questing is still better exp. I could do 1 instance with a little time left over in that period of time or I could do 30-40 quests. That's assuming it was a decent group too. Grouping is more fun, but when my goal is exp per hour, soloing is more effecient. Ironically once I hit 80 I did Naxx25 man twice, never a 5 man, and got almost all the gear I needed. So now I have almost no reason to do a 5 man.

I have considered running 5 mans, but I just don't see the reward for doing it now. In EQ you had to gain exp via groups, and once at max level it was the best way to farm money. Right now in WoW both of those tasks are done better solo.

If the average gamer logged the time they spent in a group compared to that solo, I have no doubt you would see that 75% of the time is spent solo. In EQ it was easily the opposite.
Ummm....this is actually brilliant. Revolutionary, paradigm-shifting brilliant. Someone really ought to pick this up and run with it.

And normally I only comment to point out that the OP is an idiot.
This comment has been removed by the author.
"Make gaining xp and levels in a group twice as fast as gaining xp solo."

And WoW already does. As I just pointed out over at player v developer the overlooked point in your discussion is the XP generated from quests using the quest sharing function. Minute for minute running instances in WoW is the most time effective way to level. The XP form quests matches the XP generated from killing monsters. And because the monsters and quests are concentrated in such a small area, the time savings are huge vs solo content.

If you you have five people who all level together you can cut the time of leveling in half or more. WoW already provides a HUGE incentive to group. If most people don't take advantage of it, that is not WoW's fault. It says something about how people want to play the game, not WoW.
"That's assuming it was a decent group too. Grouping is more fun, but when my goal is exp per hour, soloing is more effecient."

I find that comment unfathomable. 30-40 quests in an hour: Bullshit. There are entire zones that don't have more than 50 quests in them for your race/class/level. And I have never met nor seen anymore who could get the 1000 quest achievement in 25 hours of playing time. ROFLMAO. Not even multiboxers in grind mode would claim that feat.
Looks like goldplz beat me to it, but his comment about City of Heroes is dead on. Not only is their LFG system light-years beyond the pathetic one found in WOW, but the sidekick system (nearly) eliminates the need to find people within one or two levels of your own. And seriously, how hard is it to scale content to the size of the group? Why do you need to have EXACTLY five people to run a dungeon? I'm desperately hoping that Champions Online will find a way to keep the good parts of COH intact while adding the endgame that COH lacks.
I much prefer solo play for a many reasons and what you suggest in your blog will only marginalizes my preference. Why do group centric players always insist on treating us soloists as 2nd class players that shouldn't have a say in "their" content. Grouping is only one, small facet of these games. Why should we basically be forced to group with others just to see the game world in all it's glory?
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